I know, I know. I've left Larry and I stranded on our road trip - and I'm going to fix that very soon. I promise. Spoiler alert: We did make it to Los Angeles and I hit the husband jackpot.
The truth is, sometimes real life gets in the way of...writing about real life. It's been about 13 months since my mother found out she had cancer and it's been exactly two months since we lost her. I don't know when I'll be able to write about this past year with any clarity. But today, her 61st birthday, I thought I'd share her eulogy.
She'd mentioned it last Christmas. "Whenever one of us dies, Jules - assuming it's not you - you're going to have to write something, you know. And add the funny stuff. But make it true and don't lie." She didn't say what we were both thinking - that it would likely be her who went first. We were silent for about a minute, because I knew if I talked I would cry. Finally, I replied, "Well with the way Maura drives, I guess I should be taking notes on her." Then we both laughed like crazy because we needed to...and because she gave me two helpings of her dark, twisted sense of humor. I am forever grateful.
So here it is. Happy Happy Birthday, MAM. I didn't do you justice, but I did my best. We love you and we miss you every minute:
On behalf of our family, I want to thank you all for being here to celebrate an amazing woman. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Julia and I’m the one speaking today because I’m Ileen’s middle child with the big mouth…
And in keeping with our birth orders, her oldest daughter, Katy, would like me to ask everyone to remain seated and quiet - and her youngest daughter, Maura, would like you to focus all of your attention onto her while I'm talking.
Our mom was born in Queens, NY and grew up in Boonton, NJ. She followed in her father's and in her big brother, Jim’s, footsteps and attended St. Anselm College in Manchester, where she graduated with a degree in nursing. One of the biggest lessons she impressed upon us is that, whenever possible, a career should be an actual vocation – that your work should be something you consider to be a contribution to the world around you.
In my early childhood, my mom was a labor room nurse at Exeter Hospital, before eventually moving on to work in elder care and assisted living – at Nevins Nursing Home, Marland Place and many other facilities all along the east coast. She also worked for many years for the American Red Cross and even traveled to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina as a disaster relief nurse. To my sisters and I, our mom was first and foremost, our mom. But we’ve always been so proud when we think about all of the lives she touched, all of the people she helped to bring into this world and all of the people she helped to transition to the next.
I’m sure it’s because of her important work outside of the house that my mother had sort of a different perspective when it came to everyday challenges. True, if you were being born, you lost your house in a tornado or you were about to pass on – the woman was a living blessing. But let’s say you had something a little more trivial going on, like bronchitis, a broken heart or a broken toe – she was gonna tell you to walk it off. For example, when I whined to her the night before my prom that I’d do anything to be 50 pounds lighter: She handed me a knife and suggested I cut off my leg.
I should mention that her astounding and wonderful sense of humor was never lost on us and no one appreciated her matter-of-fact mentality more than my father, my sisters and me. It was from this part of her spirit that her manta was born. “We all make choices” she would say when one of us spent all of our allowance on gum. We weren’t lectured if we didn’t study for a test, clean our room or replace the toilet paper roll. A simple “Well, we all Make Choices” from our mom was enough to straighten us out in a hurry.
But, while she could be both tough and funny, I also don’t know anyone who’s ever taken on the role of motherhood with more seriousness and thoughtfulness. Mom did not feel her job was simply to care for us, but also, infinitely harder, to teach us how to care for ourselves and - maybe most importantly, to teach us how to care for others. I have never appreciated the strength and compassion she instilled in us more than this past year, when she gave us the great honor of caring for her and I have never been more proud of my family. While my sisters and I are very different, we have never been distant. That is because our parents have always emphasized how important we are to one another and, because of that, each of us has a permanent, enduring support system.
Any positive attribute we didn’t gain directly from our mother came from her choice in a partner – our dad, Jim. They met at St. Anselm and were married for 39 years this past August. Their love for each other is one of the biggest blessings in all of our lives. There is no greater example of devotion, commitment and unity than my parents’ relationship with one another. They’ve always been completely honest about the work that goes into a healthy marriage, and the humor, the flexibility and compassion needed to survive. They loved each other enough to allow each other to change into even better versions of themselves time and time again and my sisters and I will never stop thanking them for building our family on such a foundation of love.
I also wanted to mention that, in addition to her family and her community, my mother’s faith was very important to her. And I think she would want me to say that it, too, did not come without hard work and effort. She was always very open with us about her dialogue with God and always encouraged us to have our own separate conversations with Him. She saw life and death firsthand in her career, she experienced the death of her own parents and of our sister, Maggie, and throughout these difficult times, she was always learning about and strengthening her relationship with God. I think I speak for my Dad and my sisters when I say that her example of faith is a huge comfort to us as we attempt to accept and come to terms with her death ourselves.
We, as a family, are committed to telling her stories, to telling her jokes and to carrying out her legacy in any way we can – big and small. In her honor, we invite you to do something extra sweet for the animals in your life, to read a magazine from the back to the front, to listen to an older person’s story without looking at your phone or to teach a child in your life how to do something - instead of doing it for them.
We feel her loss in a very deep and painful way, but we also know that our pain is in direct proportion to how lucky we were to have known her in the first place. We, again, want to thank everyone for all of the support given to our family and for the grief that you share in with us. I know our mother appreciates all of the love she’s receiving; I know she sees and is moved by all of our sorrow and that she wouldn’t begrudge us our heartache. But, I can also promise you, when we’re strong enough –she’s going to tell us all to walk it off. And to get back to work - taking care of each other in the way she taught us.
Thank you all again.